When Emma was very young, she barely tolerated being read to. Unlike her older neuro-typical brother, Nic, who requested certain favorites over and over again, only to be delighted when a new book was presented, Emma would take hold of a select few and flip rapidly through the pages. It became apparent her interest was less about the book and more about the action of holding it and turning its pages. During those early years, before we were given her diagnosis I remained baffled by her behavior.
We are a reading family. Our home is filled with books on a wide variety of topics, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoirs, biography, it’s all there. When Nic was born I looked forward to introducing him to the books, which captured my attention and imagination when I was a child. We read to Nic every night and often still do.
When Emma was born, out came the now tattered edition of The Hungry Caterpillar, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? Good Night Moon, its spine broken, held together with tape and hundreds of others. But Emma would squirm in my lap, push the book away, whimper and struggle until eventually I let her go. I was tenacious though and regularly took the children to Books of Wonder, the local bookstore where Nic promptly sat on the floor amidst a growing pile of books.
“Can I have this one?” he asked. “And this one?”
Emma went to the bookshelves, scanned them and upon seeing a book she was familiar with would pull it down. I don’t remember her ever pulling down a book we didn’t already own until she began going to preschool. Then we would purchase one or maybe two books she knew from school and she would flip through the pages like some sort of speed-reader. It was the same when she looked at photographs. Not really seeing them, there was no studying the photo or in the case of a book, the illustration. She methodically turned each page, seemingly without seeing.
Over the years Emma has shown a greater tolerance for the books we continue to try and entice her with. She has learned to sit patiently with me while I read to her. Sometimes she appears to even enjoy it. When she likes a book after I have finished reading it to her, she will grab the book from me and say, “Emma’s turn!”
Over the past six months I’ve noticed Emma is much more curious about the books I proffer. Now at night I typically choose one book Emma knows and has requested, at the moment her two favorites are Olivia Forms a Band and The Three Little Rigs, and several she’s never seen or expressed any desire in sitting through. Within the past month I have read, The Cat in the Hat, McElligot’s Pool, Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book, If I Ran The Zoo, Olivia Saves the Circus, Olivia and the Missing Toy, The Giving Tree, the list goes on.
When I was pregnant with Emma, I fantasized I would read to her and Nic at night the books I remember being read to by my mother. Every Sunday night my father would take my brothers to the living room where he would read King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, The Hobbit, among others. My fathers’ booming voice would make its way down the hallway into my parent’s room where my sister and I were lying on either side of my mother. We would roll our eyes at each other and occasionally my sister would request that she be allowed to sit with our brothers and listen to whatever my father was reading. Meanwhile my mother read: Mary Poppins, Winnie the Pooh, and later books such as My Family and Other Animals. I can still remember my heartbreak when a book came to a close. A few times I even cried when a book came to its conclusion because I could not stand it had come to an end.
That Emma is showing pleasure in being read to, fills me with joy.
Just one more small step forward…